Instalment 29: pages 117 - 121 [Elliot speaks to David Carmichael, Marina's father, about his police interview]
About five minutes later we were in the square before the Supreme Court, blinking in the late afternoon sun. I stared at the Henry-Moore like sculpture, a sitting woman, her extended legs floating above the rectangular pond’s water jets. My solicitor cut an uninspiring figure, all thinning hair, sports coat and khaki slacks, more librarian than I was myself, but he’d done the job David Carmichael had hauled him out on a Sunday to do. He would have been the best criminal law man available, David wouldn’t have sent anyone else. He told me Carmichael wanted to see me at his office, pressed his card and that of Detective Sergeant Christine Cole into my hand and shot off towards the car park with a quick nod to Danielle. Fair enough, he probably had a winter barbeque to fire up.
I breathed. The watch-house air had moved just as heavily as I’d remembered. I was keen to breathe it out, watching the vanishing light on the grey and white slabs of the square. Danielle came up and took my hand.
“Time to get you home?” she asked.
“I’ve got to go see David Carmichael first,” I said. “Be a good boy and say ‘thanks’. Apparently he’s at his office.”
“My car’s over there,” said Danielle pointing. “But I’ll go get a drink at the Pen and read the paper. Don’t be too long if you can help it.”
I nodded agreement and made the short walk over to David’s office block, calling him as I walked. He met me in the lobby: we were entirely, improbably silent until he was safely behind his desk again. Somehow, he looked less impressive sitting there in a check shirt and pressed, pleated navy twill weekend slacks.
“Terrible business,” he said. “Horrible, tragic waste. Did you know her well?”
I muttered a negative.
“Still, I hear you acquitted yourself well, so to speak.”
I recalled Detective Cole’s words of minutes ago. A mid-height woman in a blue suit, her square face and severe brown ponytail proclaiming her profession, saying: “Mister Naylor, you can go now. We’d appreciate it if you kept us informed if you plan to leave Canberra for any length of time. Also, I’d like you to call me if you remember anything else that might be of use to us.” Words that told me absolutely zero, certainly not that I would be spared any particular role in the coming inquest and trial, whether it was mine or somebody else’s. Her flintiness itself told me to expect further terse, polite conversations.
“We’ll see,” I said, with the constricted smile my face adopted in David’s presence.
“Look, Elliot,” he said, leaning forward, his solemn expression proclaiming he was, regrettably, coming down to brass tacks, “this girl knew Marina. I don’t know whether there is any connection here, but I pray to god there’s not. Have you worked out anything about where she may be yet? Anything?”
As if I would hide her whereabouts from you, I thought, suddenly furious, as if I would drag this mess out to stick you for a measly few hundred. The voice that left my lips was one I was entirely unused to using in Carmichael’s presence, at least outside of my own head. It was thin and taut and strained as cheese-wire.
“I’m eliminating possibilities at the moment,” I said. “But this whole fucking mess would be much easier to handle if you’d told me from the start you were in bed with Bob Mitchell, that your daughter hated it and that you’re lying to your family about it.”
The silence was that which follows a whip-crack.
“Did you tell the police that?” he asked after a while. His voice too, was still quiet, if tense. His face turned from me to the Canberra skyline. Not a great move, his face was jowling and it showed in profile.
“Detective Cole kindly confined herself to leading questions. Did you know her colleague Marina Carmichael was missing as well? Yes. Did you hear that from her flatmates? Yes. What was your relationship with Marina? Former boyfriend. Your name didn’t come up. I’ve learned a little about performing under cross-examination. You’d recall you coached me in it. Now tell me about High Trees.”
“There’s nothing you need to know about High Trees,” he replied.
“For god’s sake David, Marina left because of it didn’t she? This shady little deal between you and Bob Mitchell and this Ryder?”
He flinched. “She turned up a little information about the deal. I was afraid she’d tell Daphne.”
“What kind of information?” I asked.
“Nothing. Pieces of things, out of context. Look, I am paying you to find my daughter, Elliot. The only question for you is where, if she believed the worst of me, she would go to ground.”
“It’s not enough!” There was a momentary stillness, enough for me to realise I was shouting. “David you cannot, cannot fucking keep shovelling me this shit and expect I’ll keep working for you! This is a criminal investigation now, there’s a dead woman. I am going to wind up in court again as a witness or in the bloody dock! Have you thought what going on with this game means to me? Have you thought what’s going to be left of my reputation at the end of this?”
“You don’t have a reputation!” Carmichael bellowed back. “You lost any name you had the day you ran that man down. Marina still has a future. If we can find Marina in the next day or two and present her to the police, her name can be kept off the front pages. She wants a career in law and politics, Elliot. She doesn’t need to become a headline. ‘Staffer missing during murder hunt’ - that can’t be who she is the rest of her life.”
He breathed. “You know what this stuff does to people. Better than anyone. And you won’t want it to happen to her. I gave you a week, and in case it hasn’t dawned on you, events are beginning to move pretty bloody fast. You still have the best chance of finding her.”
“Why not leave this to the police now?”
“Because they aren’t going to be giving it top priority, and you’ve already sunk enough time into it that I bloody well hope you can finish this first. If she’s in trouble I want her found fast, before whatever happened to Jenny can happen to her.”
I was furious with him, but I suppose, somewhere, I was flattered enough too, that he still wanted me, that he still trusted my work. Also, he’d touched our one, shared anxious nerve: what had happened to Marina? During his little speech he’d resumed his place at the window, looking out over the lake towards where the louring sunlight glittered on the Parliament’s lawn-swathed confection of marble and red tiles.
“I’ve paid you to do the job,” he said, with something of his wonted determination as he turned back to me. “You can bloody well finish it.”
“Alright,” I ground out, “but I don’t leave until you tell me what Marina found out.”